Clinch, James Daniel (‘Jammie’) (1901–81), rugby player, was born 28 September 1901 in Clondalkin, Co. Dublin, the son of Andrew (‘Coo’) Clinch (1867–1937), medical practitioner and rugby player, and his wife, Lilian, née Hynes. Andrew was a wing-forward and won ten caps for Ireland between 1892 and 1897, playing in all the 1896 matches, which saw Ireland win the championship for the first time, and in all four tests against South Africa during the 1896 Lions tour. He was president of the Irish Rugby Football Union from 1904 to 1905, represented Ireland on the international board from 1928 to 1936, and was an Irish selector from 1903 to 1913. He was also a founder member of the Hermitage golf club in Ireland.
James was educated in Dublin at the Catholic University School, at St Andrew's College, and at TCD, where he studied medicine. He spent seven years at Trinity, though he never graduated, and his father famously said that he had sent his son to university for the rugby, not the education. He played for Dublin University and Lansdowne, with whom he won two Leinster senior cup medals in 1920 and 1921, Wanderers, and the Barbarians. He also represented Leinster on twenty occasions between 1920 and 1932, and won the first of his thirty caps for Ireland against Wales in 1923 in an international career that lasted until 1931, when his last game was also against Wales. One of the finest wing-forwards ever to play for Ireland, he was fast, a tough tackler and good with the ball. In 1926 he played a prominent role on the team narrowly beaten by Wales for the triple crown – a team said to have been one of the finest Ireland ever produced. He toured with the Lions to South Africa in 1924, making the Clinches the first Irish father and son to tour with the Lions, though he failed to gain a test place.
Fun-loving and gregarious, Clinch was one of the great characters of Irish rugby, and there are many colourful anecdotes attached to his playing career. He was interviewed on numerous occasions and gained particular pleasure in spinning yarns to gullible journalists – the result has seen a cottage industry of apocryphal or fictional tales, in which he is the central figure, gain currency as accepted truth. One such story involves the veteran English forward A. F. Blakiston (‘Blakey’), who informed him during the Lions tour that he was not tackling the South Africans hard enough: Blakey insisted that they were getting up too soon afterwards and instructed Clinch to jab his finger in their eyes. Several months later when Ireland were playing England in Twickenham, Clinch strongly tackled Blakey and as the Englishman lay stretched out on the ground asked if he had hit him hard enough. When his playing career ended he remained involved in rugby and was an outspoken commentator on television and radio on the modern game, lamenting changes in coaching and the fact that players were no longer able to use the ball and play with flair. He was also president of Trinity and Wanderers rugby clubs.
In 1925 Clinch joined the British army, for whom he played rugby; he was also capped by Hampshire, the county where he was stationed. He served two years with the Middlesex regiment, including one year in China. On his return to Ireland in 1927 he worked as an insurance salesman, before returning to study medicine in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1934; he graduated in 1936, having been given exemptions on the basis of his time at TCD. In 1939 he moved to Wales and worked in general practice in Newport and later in Pontypool. He returned to Ireland in 1967, living variously in Fitzwilliam Place, Killiney and Taney Lawn. In 1931 he had married Rita Duignan, of Castlebar, Co. Mayo, whom he had met when she was working in the Switzers department store in Dublin; they had six children. He died 1 May 1981 in Dublin. His brother Andrew also served in the British army; he was awarded the Norway cross and later died in service in 1942. Clinch was the second of four generations of Clinches to have won rugby colours at Trinity.